I was not a regular at Lamar's Restaurant throughout the years, but like many of you, I spent more than a handful of memorable nights—some not so clear—in the dark recesses of the lounge.
When word trickled down on social media that Lamar's hadn't opened for several weeks—and all reports suggested it was closed—locals began to mourn what was a Chattanooga institution. There just isn't another place in town like Lamar's, a place I loved taking visitors and new residents. Gerald, the gracious and kind bartender, often seemed surly but was actually polite to a fault. Any ill will detected was your fault, and God forbid you ask him to add more soda to your whiskey and Coke or curse flippantly. This was his house.
But that was part of the charm. As the building literally seemed to be collapsing around them (the grand room in the back had been shuttered for years), Lamar's never stopped serving the stiffest drinks and best fried chicken in town.
Like other institutions such as Stone Lion, Brass Register, The Bay and Rhythm & Brews, the loss of Lamar's stings. I never thought Lamar's would cease to exist.
This column is not about speculation. I don't care why Lamar's is no more—not about property tax issues or whatever else may or may not have occurred at the property. I'm just sad that it's gone. And I wish like hell that I had visited one last time before the end.
I invite you to share your Lamar's memories in the comments section. I've listed five of my own stories, but I'm sure you'll have some better anecdotes than I do. Perhaps, down the road, something can happen that will allow Lamar's to open again. If not, at least we have our fuzzy memories.
New Year's Eve 2011
Most of my Lamar's nights didn't start at Lamar's. Instead, we would go to three other bars before somehow ending up at Lamar's as the final stop. That's why so many nights are only slightly memorable. Essentially, we were all tanked way before we ever set foot in the place. New Year's Eve 2011 was much of the same. I remember going out to dinner at 212 Market with friends—where I made the most ill-advised, offensive toast of my life—and as midnight loomed, we ended up at Lamar's. I have a photo. That's about all I remember. I'm sure I drank champagne. It looks like I had a good time.
Of Montreal: May 4, 2005
One of the most memorable concert experiences of my life happened at Lamar's in what used to be the grand ballroom. Before it was shuttered (I don't know why), the area just past the lounge opened into a large, grand room with a wrapped balcony, not unlike The Honest Pint. I don't remember how I found out about the show at Lamar's, but I remember thinking it was weird and special that Of Montreal was playing there. The band had just released "The Sunlandic Twins," a follow-up to their album "Satanic Panic in the Attic." I can recall not being able to see anything, dancing my butt off and thinking to myself, "I'm going to remember every moment of this for the rest of my life." I don't. But it was still wonderful.
Celebration of Southern Literature
During the Celebration of Southern Literature—which takes place every two years in Chattanooga—hundreds of writers, readers and poets gather to, well, celebrate Southern writing. I attended a meet-and-greet at The Flying Squirrel and met a few of my heroes—food writer John T. Edge and novelist Ron Rash—during the event. Edge asked me where the "best dive bar in Chattanooga" was, and you can guess where a bunch of us ended up that night. Edge, along with poets Jennine Capó Crucet and Kevin Young, and Oxford American Editor Roger D. Hodge, joined us. Other locals joined us. We drank shots of rye whiskey and listened to soul songs on the jukebox for hours. I'll never forget when Young asked Gerald "if the chicken was any good" and Gerald just turned and walked away. Everyone loved the experience, and it is easily my clearest memory of Lamar's. I'll never forget that night.
A Lamar's first date
We'll call her Bethany. I met her online—we had some mutual friends—and I wanted our first date to be special. "I'll take her to Lamar's and give her the true Chattanooga experience," I thought to myself. But this thought was misguided. Imagine trying to get someone to follow you into an empty Lamar's: the cigarette machine, the bathrooms and not a soul in sight. And now imagine trying to convince this person to follow you down a dark hallway and into an even-darker room. I don't know if I'm harmless-looking or if she thought she could take me if it came down to it (she could've), but we ended up drinking in the lounge and having a great time. I'm sure some of you have similar stories. Gerald knew that I was on a date and was extra-nice that evening.
Performing live at Lamar's: Independence Day
My friend Jonathan and I were once an acoustic comedy duo called—and I'm not kidding—Seanathan. We sang songs called "Hot Steamy Pizza," a sexual innuendo-filled song about making pizza, and "Nature Boy," a song about a guy who likes fornicating with trees. Through some sort of roommate agreement, Jonathan got us on a gig with two legitimate bands at Lamar's. We even wrote a song, I think, about the holiday that failed to elicit a single laugh. I also covered (badly) Warren Zevon's song "Play It All Night Long." It was a disaster of a show, but I can to this day say, "I've performed at Lamar's Restaurant." And that's pretty cool.
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